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FAFSA® FAQ - Your FAFSA® Questions Answered

Paying for college can be overwhelming. The first step to getting any money for school, be it a grant, scholarship, work-study or loan, and regardless of family income, is to start by filling out the FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This application can be intimidating for a student to fill out, asking questions about your income, tax returns and other financial information—and for many undergraduate students, you may need information from your parents.

Below we answer the most common questions about this essential application. Hopefully easing your concerns and helping you get on your way to paying for college.

What does the FAFSA® stand for? 

FAFSA® stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

What is the FAFSA®?

he FAFSA® is the most important financial aid application. The information provided is used to assess a student’s financial need. Federal student aid includes federal grants, work-study, and federal student loans. Many states also require the FAFSA® to award state financial aid, and your school may also use it to determine awards for students.

When does the FAFSA® open?

The FAFSA® opens each year on October 1st each year, for the following school year. For example, the FAFSA® that was released Oct. 1, 2021 will be used to determine your financial aid eligibility for the academic year which begins between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023.

When is the FAFSA® due?

There are three FAFSA® deadlines you need to know—state, school, and federal. The most important deadline is the one that comes first!

More>>>FAFSA® Deadlines

Do you have to pay back the FAFSA®?

It can be easy to confuse the FAFSA® application as the actual financial aid. The FAFSA is an application to determine eligibility for student aid, it’s free to complete and submit.

Based on the information provided on the FAFSA®, you could be offered a federal student loan. If you accept a federal student loan, you will have to repay the loan and any applicable interest based on the terms of borrowing the money.

More>>>How to Pay for College

How do you apply for the FAFSA®?

You can complete the FAFSA® online (StudentAid.gov) or by completing the paper FAFSA®. You will need a FSA ID, which is your username/password, to complete the FAFSA® online or through the mobile application. If you need a printed version, you can have one mailed to you by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.

For help with the application, check out our Guide to Filing the FAFSA®.

Is the FAFSA® a loan?

No, the FAFSA® is not a loan. It’s an application used by participating schools to determine your federal aid eligibility.

Does the FAFSA® cover summer classes?

The FAFSA® qualifies you for financial aid that can be used to cover summer classes. Make sure to apply as soon as possible to ensure that the aid is awarded before the beginning of summer classes. If you receive a financial aid offer from a school that doesn’t include the summer term, make an appointment with your financial aid office.

How long does it take to fill out the FAFSA®?

It typically takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete the FAFSA®. It’s important to have all your documentation handy as you are filling out the application. This includes: social security number, driver’s license, federal income tax information, W-2’s and other documents stating any money you may have earned. If you are a dependent, you will need your parents’ documents as well.

More>>>What Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA®

How long does it take to process the FAFSA®?

It typically takes 3-5 days to process the FAFSA® for online applications submitted on StudentAid.gov. Paper applications generally take 7-10 days to process upon receipt.

Can I add my school to the FAFSA®?

Yes. You can add up to 10 schools on your FAFSA® application at one time. If you are completing the paper FAFSA®, you can only list four at one time. If you are applying to more schools, you can log back into the application after you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) and replace schools which already received your information.

More>>>FAFSA® School Selection

Can international students apply to the FAFSA®?

International and DACA students are generally not eligible for federal student aid, unless they are a U.S. citizen, or eligible non-citizen. However, your school may request that you complete the FAFSA® and submit, even if you are not eligible for aid through the federal programs. It’s best to check with your financial aid office to determine what they require from you.

More>>>Federal Student Aid Eligibility

How much does the FAFSA® give?

The FAFSA® is used by schools to award not only federal student aid, but also state and institutional aid. Your school uses your FAFSA® information which calculates your Expected Family contribution (EFC). From there your school will determine your financial aid eligibility.

There are many factors a school considers when determining your financial aid eligibility: the cost of your program (COA), your enrollment (full-time, half-time, or part-time), the year you are in school, if you’re an in-state or out-of-state student, and if you plan to live on-campus, off-campus with family, or off-campus not with family.

More>>>Paying for College

What is the FAFSA® used for?

The FAFSA® is an application for you to apply for federal student aid.  States and schools can also use the FAFSA® to award their own aid. It’s important to fill out the FAFSA® as soon as possible, as some aid is awarded on a first come first served basis and could be depleted before you submit your application, limiting the aid available to you.

More>>>FAFSA® Deadlines

What tax year does the FAFSA® use?

If you are completing the 2022-2023 FAFSA®, you will provide information from your 2020 tax return.

If you are completing the 2021-2022 FAFSA®, you will be providing information from your 2019 tax return.

FAFSA State Deadline, FAFSA School Deadline, FAFSA Federal Deadline

Who qualifies for FAFSA®?

If you are enrolled in a post-secondary institution, you want to check to see if your school participates in federal student aid. If you they do, you will likely need to complete the FAFSA®. There are some basic eligibility criteria you need to meet to qualify to receive federal aid.

  • Be a U.S. Citizen or eligible non-citizen (for those looking to receive federal financial aid)
  • Have a valid social security number, with the exception of a student from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau
  • Be enrolled, or accepted for enrollment at a school and program which is authorized to offer federal student aid
  • Have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED), or have completed a curriculum in a home school setting that satisfies your state’s requirements for home-schooling**
  • Not be in default of a federal student loan
  • Not own a refund on a federal student grant or loan overpayment

**For more detailed information>>>Federal Student Aid Eligibility**  and what you need to do to maintain your eligibility 

Do you have to fill out the FAFSA® every year?

Yes, you need to resubmit the FAFSA® each school year that you want to be considered for federal financial aid. The FAFSA® application opens each October 1 for the following fall. For example, the 2022-2023 FAFSA® was released on Oct. 1, 2021. This FAFSA® is used for students starting their program after July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023.

If you have any questions about which FAFSA® you need to complete, it’s best to reach out to your school’s financial aid office. 

Does FAFSA® check your bank accounts?

While the FAFSA® does not check your bank accounts, the FAFSA® will ask you to report the balance of your bank accounts as of the day you file the FAFSA®. It’s always best to tell the truth, if you are found to have lied on your FAFSA® application, you could face fines up to $20,000, up to five year in jail, or both—you may also need to repay any financial aid you received.

Does FAFSA® cover trade school?

Yes, the FAFSA® does cover trade school as well as vocational schools, career and online schools. Not all schools participate in federal student aid, and therefore would not require the FAFSA®. Check your school’s website or discuss your financial aid options with your school to see what applications are required. 

Does FAFSA® cover grad school?

Yes, the FAFSA® can also be required for graduate school financial aid.

More>>>Financial Aid for Graduate School

How does FAFSA® verify assets?

There are certain items the school may verify if your FAFSA application is selected for FAFSA® verification, and the school will let you know what is required. However, if the school has reason to believe that false information was reported, regardless if your application was selected for FAFSA® Verification or not, they can report the student and/or parents to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General for them to open up a fraud investigation.

Lying on your FAFSA® is considered fraud and it is deemed a felony and could result in up to 5 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.

Is FAFSA® first come first serve?

You should fill out the FAFSA® as soon as possible once it opens for your school year. To improve your chances of receiving aid, the earlier you apply the better.

More>>>FAFSA® Deadlines

Is FAFSA® required?

If you need financial aid to pay for college, and your school participates in federal student aid, you will likely need to complete the FAFSA® to be considered for federal, state, and institutional aid. Some schools require you to complete the FAFSA to receive all types of aid, including merit-aid and scholarships. It’s free, so there’s everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so.

How do I send my FAFSA® to college?

To make sure your school receives a copy of your FAFSA®, make sure to add them to your FAFSA® School List. You can add up to 10 schools at a time if you are applying through the web or mobile app—only four if you are filing using the paper FAFSA®. If you’ve already submitted your FAFSA® and forgot a school or are applying to more than 10 schools, you would need to go back into your application and add or replace the additional schools to your school list.

More>>>FAFSA® School Selection

Can you make changes to the FAFSA® after submitting?

Yes. There are some changes you can make on your own, while other changes you will need to work with your financial aid office to help you. You will need to login to fStudentAid.gov and log into your FAFSA® using your FSA ID and select “Make Corrections”.

More>>>FAFSA® Corrections

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